It might sound dramatic, but it’s true: there is no light without darkness. Light is meant to cast shadows, and as a photographer, you’ll need to work on the dark side to bring out the brightness in your images. This is no less true with product photography than it is when you’re shooting dramatic landscapes.
But with access to studio lighting, it’s actually pretty easy to wind up with a gallery of otherwise perfect photos that lack natural shadows. The good news is, that you can easily recreate these shadows with a few tweaks—no Photoshop required. In this guide, we’ll show you how to add shadows to images in no time at all.
Why do Images Need Shadows?
When you’re shooting in a studio environment, a common rookie mistake is to light your model from all angles, creating stark images in which all shadows have been eliminated. Some subjects are difficult to light properly, so going in with LEDs blazing ensures that the resulting photos aren’t obscured by any awkward shadows. Theoretically, you’d think that would be perfect for product and model photos. After all, you want the viewer to be able to see every detail of your products at once, right?
Unfortunately, no. Not only do photos without shadows look subtly unrealistic, but without shadows to guide the eye, it’s difficult to make sure that your viewers are drawn to the details you want to highlight—and it can be confusing or overwhelming to the eye. Shadows bring focus to your subject and are a necessary tool that can help make your photos appear natural, dramatic, and grounded.
Like every aspect of photography, there’s an art to casting perfect shadows. If you’re taking photos for a product gallery or model shoot, these are the three cardinal rules you must follow to ensure that they look great in your online store or catalog:
- The shadows must look realistic.
- Similar products should cast similar shadows, but…
- Not all products need to have the same kind of shadows and highlights.
Shadows are all about showing off the shape and dimensions of your subjects, helping represent them in 3D. The types of shadows you capture should help bring each subject to life and capture its unique appearance.
How to Add Shadows to Model Images
Nothing looks better than natural shadows, but lighting conditions might prevent you from capturing them on the first try. Or the shadows in the original image might look unnatural if you need to change the backdrop. However, it’s not the end of the world—you can actually add these subtle details back to your images in just a few clicks. All you need to do is arm yourself with the right tools in the post-production stage.
Some editors prefer to manually recreate shadows in Photoshop or other advanced editing software, and this can produce great results with total creative control. But what if you’re not a Photoshop whiz or you simply don’t have time to painstakingly edit shadows into many images at once, such as if you need to edit photos for a whole product gallery?
That’s when turning to AI-driven tools like autoRetouch can save you time and produce excellent finished photos. autoRetouch’s Natural Shadow component allows you to add realistic shadows to your photos by creating a custom shadow based on the structure of your model. The AI behind this tool is trained to construct a 3D model from a 2D photo and thus generate the appropriate placement and depth of shadows.
Here’s how to use autoRetouch to add natural shadows to your images in 5 simple steps:
Remove the original backdrop of the image using a background removal tool.
Set the direction of the light source.
Adjust the light source’s elevation to set the length of the shadows.
Adjust the shade diffusion, which will change how sharp or soft the edges of the shadows are.
Set the shadow intensity, ranging from dark black to transparent. Let the AI algorithms do the rest!
For best results, position your model directly in front of the camera, facing forward. Shadows may not appear natural if the model is in profile. The algorithm is specially designed for model photos, and there is no limit to the number of models per image.
How to Add Ground Shadows
Having a floating model might be an interesting look—but only if that’s what you’re going for. Otherwise, you probably want to make sure your models look like they have their feet on the ground! The Add Ground Shadow component from autoRetouch can help restore nuanced and realistic shadows, giving your photos depth and dimension by inserting a drop shadow under the feet of the model.
Here’s how to use the Add Ground Shadow component to fix up your photos:
Eliminate the original background using an AI-powered background remover.
Set the color and size of the shadows.
Choose a blurring effect from 11 presets.
Adjust the shadow angle according to the style of your photo.
Branding with Custom Shadows
For best results, take a look at the lighting in the picture(s) you’ve selected before you use autoRetouch’s shadow tools. Instead of thinking about the highlights, focus on where you want to put the shadows and how intense you want them to be. If you want to use deep, dramatic shadows, you can boost the contrast on the original image to complement the look.
Many people instinctively opt for deep, dark shadows, but there are plenty of other options which may work better for your unique product gallery. Softer, more transparent shadows are gentler and less distracting, while intense shadows offer a dramatic and stylized look. There are no wrong answers, only artistic choices, so you should experiment to find what works best for your brand and products.
We may be told to look on the bright side of life, but shadows are just as crucial as light sources for creating attractive, natural product photos. Adding shadows to photos doesn’t need to be a challenge, nor do you need to toil away in Photoshop to spruce up every image. With autoRetouch, you can use AI algorithms to create and customize shadows that look seamless with the original image and add depth and life to your model photos. Now that’s a bright spot.